What is Cool about Ballet?

by David on July 3, 2011

I’m bringing up 2 main questions here:

  1. What do you think is cool about ballet?
  2. How should it be highlighted to let others know how cool it is?

I will discuss a few of my ideas, but I really want to hear yours, so be sure to comment!

This post has 2 recent inspirations. David Wilson’s recent post at Dave Tries Ballet called “Ballet Coolness”. Dave pointed out that he took a friend to see some ballet, and they commented that it was “cool.” Dave shared a bunch of great ballet videos, posters, and twitter users that really highlight the coolness of ballet. We all know it is there, but not everyone sees through the stereotypes, so Dave really points out things that blow that stereotype away. I’ve shown a lot of my non-ballet friends some of the videos he links to.

Another inspiration was a recent conversation with a few dancer friends of mine. They are in a really great university dance program, but it hasn’t done much to draw non-dance university crowds to their shows. One of my friends was really talking about all of her plans to get more people to the amazing performances, and to actually get them to embrace the coolness of dance.

These recent inspirations have brought me to these 2 questions. What is it that is so cool, and how do we show others how cool it is? I can only begin to give some of my own ideas, but I know everyone else will have tons more. I just want to put in my ideas, so feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.

BLOGGERS: Feel free to write your own post answering these questions and leave a link in the comments.


What is Cool about Ballet?

First, I think there is an inherent coolness in any alternative form of expression, or any art. Art is sometimes covered by a thin layer of stereotypical un-coolness, but when you get past that most people can see that being able to express something in different ways is pretty darn cool.

Skills are cool. It makes me think of Napoleon Dynamite, but everyone is in some way impressed by a skill. Sometimes jealousy might cover that, but I think that people only get jealous when they think they have no chance of getting something. Let people know they can learn a skill too, and they will think it is cool. The cool thing about a skill is that it takes dedication. When someone is skilled at something, it shows they work hard and are committed to something. We generally like people with those traits, so we think skills are cool.

Athleticism is cool. Look around, it is highlighted in advertisements, comic books, movies, everything. However, in many typical situations, athleticism is shown through being better than someone else. Dance and ballet is not so much about competition (even though competition shows may be how people access it). The athleticism of a dancer requires someone to be better than they can possibly be. It is a competition with a self, not so much a domination over another, but it is pretty darn cool.

Confidence is cool. You need confidence in dance. Up to and just before arrogance, confidence is cool. Pick on dancers all you want, but it is pointless to pick on a confident dancer. One of the cool things I find about the confidence of a dancer is that it is practiced. It doesn’t come from nowhere. It is practiced, developed, and portrayed. That makes it even cooler.

Being a rebel is cool. And not everyone dances.

But being a rebel who fits in anywhere is really freaking cool. One of my favorite definitions of cool went something like this: “Someone who can fit in with the punks and the squares without changing who they are.” Never mind my usage of “punk” and “square,” but it is really cool if you can fit into 2 different ends of social spectra, just by who you are. Ballet kind of does that. You can be an artist and express and explore, but there is also a cultured tradition behind it that connects you to the classical. You have credential and street-cred.


How do we show how Cool Ballet is?

The first thing I think that needs to be done, is breaking away from the stereotypes of lame, boring, up-tight classical ballet. At least a little bit. But, we still really need to be authentic when we do that. We should stick to what we really believe, and not just try to pander to what we think people think is cool. That is why I think it is so important to think about what WE think is so cool about it first. I believe that there are failed examples of trying to get others to think ballet is cool. Most of the examples I see are in trying to make ballet cool to guys: “You get to hang around with girls” or “It helps you with sports.” Do any of us really find that cool? No. It is either creepy or lame, not cool. It is just an attempt to try and guess what other people care about. Stop guessing, be true to what you care about, and others will find it cool as well.

Movies, stories, etc usually show a bit of ballet cool. Sometimes it might just be the moves that come across as cool. Sometimes ballet movies play off the same stereotypes that make it hard for people to connect with ballet. Movies or stories that really show the cool parts, like learning a skill, becoming confident, expressing something, those do a good job of making ballet look cool.

Anything viral. Isn’t everything viral cool? Those short ballet videos Dave showed in his post or anything you can share on Facebook that shows how ballet is cool. That helps it. It helps with marketing individual performances or dancers, but also helps promote the art in general.

T-shirts. I believe, that in some subtle way, cool t-shirts about ballet will support an embraceable lifestyle around ballet. People wear skateboard t-shirts and don’t skateboard. People wear mixed martial arts shirts and never get into a cage match. I believe that eventually people will wear ballet t-shirts because they think that lifestyle is darn cool, even if they’ve never taken a dance class. That is why I started HD Wear and HD Ballet Design. Both of those companies will be receiving some advances later this year. Part of the discussion I had with my friend was about building a marketing budget just from t-shirt sales to dancers. We had some really cool ideas. Basically, in a decent size company it is possible to sell quality custom t-shirts, to any dancers who want them, at reasonable prices and profit enough to throw a decent post-performance gala to draw in a younger crowd. I could talk more about this forever, and maybe some day I will.

Targeted performances. I think that having more options to take dance out of its very classical setting, and putting it where people have more access to it is great. This happens so much, and it seems to be getting even more popular with the internet.

Collaboration. Ballet collaborating with different genres or media exposes it to more people and shows it isn’t an inflexible form.

These are just some ideas I have. What are your ideas or examples?

tl;dr – Think about what is cool about dance. How would you share that?


{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Thomas Stevens July 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm

I think the stereotypes are becoming less and less each year in society. I started ballet at age 21 and all of my friends and family have been nothing but supportive.

So as that stereotype continues to slip away, the general appeal and ‘coolness’ of ballet will increase I feel.

I think you could take even the biggest homophobe or socially backward person and show them a professional male ballet dancer doing a triple tour en’lair or some crazy amount of pirouettes and they wouldn’t be able to help but be impressed and may even think its ‘cool’.

When you see a male ballet dancer do a solo, all of the steps are flattering to his masculinity and strength and this further helps break down the stereotype.

As far as spreading the coolness of ballet I think there are two main ways:
1. Targeted performances as you mentioned. P.S. I don’t think classical ballet is up-tight or lame at all!

2. Education. Doing all we can to get dance in general and ballet back into public schools right from a young age. It’s a hard one to crack but something as simple as a dance studio offering to do a performance at their local school could drive interest and open the eyes of educators more to the arts.

2 James July 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm

1. Gaining the confidence to be able to move however you want to, and not lose balance or control.

2. I think get organized, and get out there in public doing something! There is a group of amateur dancers in Finland who do ballet in fluoro tutus to rock music: http://www.wannabeballerinas.com/ I really admire the idea, but they won’t let guys in, no matter how much I plead. Finnish women in general seem to be a bit funny about guys dancing anything other than ballroom, unfortunately. I’m not sure how, but I’d definitely like to push ballet out of the studio and into the public eye.


3 David July 3, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Great comment! I totally agree that classical ballet is not up-tight, but I think people unfamiliar with it sometimes think so. And I totally agree with educating people. I wrote my master’s paper on arts integration in public schools and as a public school teacher I always find it is a great safe way for students to explore new things. Right on.

4 lisamarch July 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm

I had my 10-year old son, who has been dancing for 3 years in lessons (his whole life on his own), read this post. His response was pretty disappointing. He thinks that it’s practically impossible for ballet to be cool for guys in America. He said, “If you want ballet to be cool, you’d have to go to England or France or Germany. It’s not going to work in the USA.” That really saddened me. He loves ballet and is now learning the language of ballet as well as the movement part. He’s learned that he doesn’t talk about his dancing outside of the studio, which is super sad, but as a mom, I don’t want my kid beat up, so I don’t have any better advice for him.

5 David July 5, 2011 at 6:16 pm

That is too bad. I’m guessing that as he gets older he will hopefully be a little more comfortable with it. Also, his idea of what is cool may change over the years. In high school, doing something different isn’t that cool. In college it is a bit cooler. Hopefully he’ll feel differently before then, haha. Thanks for your comment, we here at Ballet for Men think he is cool!

6 Mehron July 12, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I explain to my guy friends how ballet class is like ninja training, and every single one of them gets it. I play up the athleticism aspect, and once I’m sure they have a genuine respect, I mention how the daily discipline changes my life and how it’s helped me become a better person.

7 zx12richard July 14, 2011 at 2:41 am

Most female dancers think it’s cool to see a male balletdancer in class. It’s cool when the male dancer is wearing more classical clothing e.g. tights etc. the female dancers suddenly change their more modern outfits to more classical outfits.

It’s cool when your outdoors or at work and do little ballet steps and things, which other may notice, but don’t say anything about it.

I think it’s cool I’m doing Ballet, cause it’s not very common here, and makes me feel special. I enjoy and love doing ballet. It makes me feel free and find peace inside of me. I love to see and notice the progression I take with ballet dancing.

Me doing Ballet has made me more free and more confidence, then with any other sport. Most male friends don’t understand why doing ballet, but respect it. A small amount of women don’t understand it, and don’t respect it. Then again, I enjoy ballet and there is noone who can stop me doing ballet and making me think I’m not cool .

8 Robert August 1, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Just read your post,and it is a shame that more people aren’t into the arts more.I started ballet at 48,have done it for 2 years now,and have added other dance classes as well.tap,modern,and will be taking jazz this fall at the local community college,along with ballet.I have always wanted to dance,but was raised in a time where you didn’t ,meaning men,dance. It’s sad that it took all this time for me to do something that i love,and am half way descent at. The cool thing is that i’ve just read where there was a dancer with Joffery,that danced into his 90′s!Not that i want to dance with a professional company ( won’t say no) but at least i have some time. Also,I would like to get more adults to do it! It’s just not for the young,you might be limited on some of the moves,but it is great exercise,and I’ve lost 5 inches this past year dancing. It does help the confidence,also the waist!People need to get over the stigmas of it all,and just enjoy!

9 Trevor August 6, 2011 at 6:36 am

For one: who wears tights? Dancers and superheros, that’s who. Coincidence? I think not! (also one of my friends says male dancers are much scarier than football players)
In my experience, ballet is not accepted as cool by the greater community (especially for guys). However people don’t tend to say anything negative to me, and they generally don’t seem to judge. I am the only male dancer at our studio who takes ballet. The other two only do hiphop. I think the only way to make ballet (or any dance) cool for the general public is to get more people into studios to actually experience it for themselves.

10 Delaland September 13, 2011 at 12:53 pm

1. From a spectators perspective ballet is cool because there’s a lot of imagination, movement and energy in the performances. The creative collaboration of diverse talents will impress whoever gives ballet or any art form, both classical and contemprary, a chance. But sometimes it’s hard to appreciate just the beautiful things. In books sordid and stark things can be expressed with the same austerity and elegance as a classical epic poem. I don’t know if ballet has advanced so far.

2. I agree with the poster who said education is a way. What better way to clear false stereotypes? Also if ballet can express realistic and humane issues perhaps ballet will have a much more personal relationship to an audience from all generation and all way of life.

This is from a spectators view. But I am a guy who is interested in starting ballet in his twenties. I just got to collect my courage and step into a class.

11 amazing dancer September 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm

For question # 1? For me ballet isn’t about being cool its about passion and love for dancing.

#2. Many people think that men who dance a ballet already perceived in their mind that the guy is gay. That is a big no no, in fact there are lots of straight men who wants to try ballet including a dancer like me. Because it is also a dance form like any other dance.

12 Robert - Chicago October 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I think one way to improve the persecutive of ballet for men is to have men focused ballet groups and videos. I have a couple of DVDs for ballet workouts at home. They are all geared towards women. There is no assumption made that a man might be watching the DVD. I think it would probably be useful for schools to offer men’s ballet classes. I’m either the only or the second guy in the adult ballet class filled with women. This doesn’t bother me, but I understand that those men who are a little insecure with their masculinity would find this a big turnoff.

13 James October 20, 2011 at 9:37 pm

I did my bit… I just got a big plug for the “Ballet For Men” blog into Finland’s national lifestyle magazine, Kodin Kuvalehti, in an article on men who dance.

14 Jonny October 22, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Well, I was just involved in a Ballet presentation at an elementary school. My Ballet teacher told the kids a brief history of ballet; How it originated in King Louise 16 castle, how he was the best dancer, he created the first ballet school, and how men were the best ballet dancers for approximately 200 years… in essence, ballet was CREATED for men!

Just a few fun little points about ballet :)

15 Anne January 31, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Hi Lovers of Dance,

I just saw an interesting way to get the word out to help more kids get time/space for dance: There’s an online petition stating dance education is a right of all children– It’s hoping to get ~99,000 more signatures before Feb. 14, 2013 :D


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